'Farm to Fashion' event will help Wichita yarn shop stay on a roll

Don't be alarmed if you walk into Tracie Anderson's yarn shop this fall and find three live, sheared alpaca.

They're not looking for revenge.

They're part of "Farm to Fashion," an event Anderson has planned to give her customers at Odd Balls Yarn Shop a look at the ultimate source of some premium fiber.

Not surprisingly, Anderson also makes devices like a weaving loom and spinning wheels available to customers.

To be sure, most customers are happy choosing from miles of colorful ready-to-use yarn and other materials for knitting and crocheting. But if they want to make their own, Odd Balls will help them do that, too.

"Making your own product is an art," Anderson said.

Anderson opened her store in March. A Wichita native, Anderson ran a knitting and needlework shop called Needleworks in west Wichita from 2001 to 2005 when family problems caused her to close it.

Anderson tried other lines of work before finding the 4,000-square-foot space in the Brittany Center at 21st and Woodlawn that had housed City Bites, a restaurant. While checking out the vacant space she realized she could use the convection oven and hood exhaust system to dye fabrics.

"I was like, 'Stop, don't tear anything else out,' " she said.

Anderson's shop offers yarn made from everything from wool (from sheep) and angora (from rabbit) to sugarcane. A space off the showroom floor, complete with complimentary coffee and iced tea, is set aside for customers to work on their projects and interact.

"There's a huge social base behind this," she said.

The shop also caters to scrapbookers, quilters and needlepointers, offering yarn in smaller quantities.

Anderson and her staff offer classes in many of these specialties, from specific projects like making socks and hats to more general skills such as spinning yarn. A kids class will show kids how to dye using Kool-Aid.

Most of the store's customers are women, although Anderson's husband, David, teaches weaving.

"In the Middle Ages, men ran the weaving guilds," she said. "Men were the only ones allowed to make money from it. Forty percent of knitting patterns are invented by men."

Anderson said the crafts industry has grown steadily for over two decades.

"We hit our seven-month sales goal in the first month of business," she said. "That's just crazy good. We've gone steadily up since then."

She brought in spinning wheels and a weaving loom before she'd planned to because of demand.

In addition to yarn and accessories, Anderson sells handmade goods such as jewelry and handbags from a dozen local artisans on consignment.

The shop sells its own line of yarn called Spectrum and does extensive custom dyeing, too.

"If you come in and say, 'I want chunk wool, but I want it in black, gray and burgundy,' we can do that for you," she said.

The hottest seller is another line, called Noro, which Anderson calls "knitting cocaine" because of its addictive quality.

"Before you know it, it's 4 o'clock in the morning and you're still knitting," she said.